St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Born: Jerusalem, 315 A.D.
Consecrated: Caesarea, 348 A.D.
Died: Jerusalem, 387 A.D.
Feast: March 18
Until one has had the immense blessing of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the ancient city of Jerusalem can seem like nothing more than a far-off place from a fairy tale. In our modern geo-political situation and era of instantaneous mass communication, it is also among the most reported upon cities in the world. Much happens there- often tense and unsettling- as the location where the world’s three Abrahamic religions more collide than co-exist. And yet, once one has visited there, it is impossible not to leave a part of your heart in that place where the Sacred Heart of God’s only-begotten Son was pierced for our salvation.
Many generations of Jewish pilgrims made their way up to Jerusalem on their multiple, annual pilgrimages to the Holy City. I counted myself immensely blessed when, last year, by a stroke of sheer providence, impeccable timing by our guide- or both- that, as our tour bus wound its way up the back road leading into Jerusalem from the Judean desert, we were reciting Psalm 122 as we each laid our eyes for the first time upon that blessed city. I rejoiced when I heard them say, Let us enter the house of the Lord; and now our feet were standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
These reflections came back to mind as I studied the life of one of this great city’s early bishops, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Although he was born less than 300 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, he was by no means an early bishop of that city. Born, raised and well-educated there, he would serve in a line of succession which began, immediately after Pentecost in that very city, with the Lord’s trusted relative and Apostle, St. James. Being among the earliest of the Apostolic Churches, it was no stranger to conflict and animosity. Neither was her eventual Bishop, Cyril.
He was ordained a bishop at the young age of 33 but received episcopal consecration from the Metropolitan Bishop of Caesarea. However, that Bishop was known to hold Arian sympathies- the prevailing and pervasive heresy of their day, which denied the divinity of Christ- and so it was surmised by not a few that Cyril himself must have made certain Arian concessions in order to obtain the office of Bishop. The contributions he would later make at Synodal gatherings of Bishops as well as in catechesis to his own flock of Jerusalem would strongly prove otherwise.
Nevertheless, in his first thirty years as a bishop, he was exiled three separate times by order of his Metropolitan Bishop or the Emperor- once for even as long as eleven years- meaning the pastoral care of his See was difficult to maintain. Once he was restored not to be uprooted again in 378, he set out, through intense care of celebrating the Sacred Mysteries as well as delivering robust and illuminating catecheses, to cement a sturdy formation of his faithful in the Holy City. This would regrettably only last nine years until his death in 387, but it was nine years well spent. In 381, he travelled to Constantinople in order to participate in the Second Ecumenical Council where his interventions earned him recognition from among his brother bishops as an orthodox defender of the Faith despite their confused times; a report of his contributions made its way to the Roman Pontiff himself.
Perhaps among his longest lasting impact on the life of the whole Church has been the preserved writings of his catecheses, especially those known as his Mystagogical Catechesis, delivered to the newly baptized Christians which he received into the fold every Easter. It is a marvellous thought to consider that the most treasured Christian location in all of Jerusalem- the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, honouring the sites of both Jesus’ crucifixion and burial/resurrection- was not only a shrine for Cyril, but his classroom.
In this month of March, almost always entirely consumed by the season of Lent, my mind and heart also turn to those men and women throughout the world, along with that handful specifically entrusted to my care, who seek to enter the Church this Easter. Delivering to them a precise catechesis, as St. Cyril did, remains a challenge preceded by facilitating for them an ongoing encounter with the risen Lord who is calling them into His Church. Evangelization and catechesis remain the central pastoral priority of the Church, a two-sided coin where each are in need of the other at the service of the sanctification of souls in this life for their salvation in the next.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem sensed this implicitly and lived it explicitly, setting a pattern for us almost 1700 years later still worth following. We would do well to meditate upon the words which he once preached to catechumens preparing to be baptized, which remain no less relevant to all the baptized: “You have been caught in the nets of the Church. Be taken alive, therefore; do not escape for it is Jesus who is fishing for you, not in order to kill you but to resurrect you after death. Indeed, you must die and rise again…. Die to your sins and live to righteousness from this very day” (Procatechesis, 5).
St. Cyril, pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
pray for us all!
*To learn more about the life of St. Cyril Jerusalem, consider reading the brief catechesis of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his series on the Church Fathers. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20070627.html
Submitted by Fr. Cristino Bouvette